The Acceptability Factor

By Greg Raven

Have you ever thought about the different degrees there are of acceptability? You can start at one end of the scale with coexistence (in the strictest minimalist sense of the word), move up to tolerance, tarry for a while at benign neglect, skip on up to love, or go whole hog with fanatical devotion.

Throughout history we have seen many instances of fanatical devotion. Usually these happened with regards some ruler or religious leader -- real or imagined -- and sitting here now a safe distance away from such unsophisticated and provincial displays, it is easy to chuckle knowingly and shake our heads, perhaps turning to the evening news to see what the Iranians and Iraqis are up to.

But let’s face it. Sometimes a little fanaticism can go a long ways towards getting across a point that careful reason and metered statements scarcely dream of driving home. And I don’t expect all Macintosh users to feel this way, but I believe I will be excused for suggesting that perhaps in addition to evangelists we need some good old-fashioned head-bangers. People willing to flagellate themselves in the cause of Apple. People for whom death atop a blazing pile of 5¼ inch floppies is an automatic ticket to heaven.

Extreme? Perhaps. But no less so, I feel, than the opinions of some computer scene experts. With a casual air of self-congratulating superiority, these experts calmly let us know they think the Macintosh is a fine machine, just fine. Easy to use. Provided competition that improved the breed, it did. It even has some applications in the business world. Think of that!

What sticks in their craw, however, is that some of those darned Mac enthusiasts are simply too vociferous in their attachment to the Mac. And if there’s one thing corporate America doesn’t want, say the experts, its to buy a computer from some quasi-religious ‘true believer.’

Only they’re just about as wrong as they could be.

A little over a year ago I heard that one of the magazine publishers for which I was freelancing was considering computerizing, so I called the person in charge to find out what the skinny was. It turns out they had some high-powered consultant whose expert opinion was that they needed an IBM System 36. You are excused if you don’t get it, but the System 36 is almost universally considered a joke. I was even embarrassed telling people that I knew someone who was going to buy one. It’s that bad.

At any rate they hadn’t signed the check yet, so I offered my assistance (free of charge) to help them determine what their needs were. I even gave them telephone numbers of some of the better Macintosh sales people here on the westside. The outlook was bleak, however. The owner of the publishing firm told me in no uncertain terms that they had decided to go with IBM.

In November of 1986, they bought the System 36, seven terminals, and a PC-XT for good measure. No one knew exactly what all this hardware was supposed to do, but they had been assured that it would handle the job at hand. It sat in packing crates for nearly two months.

Along with the System 36 they had purchased a custom software package that was supposed to make life a bowl of cherries for the ad coordinators. I sat in on one of the orientation seminars, but having programmed dBASE II for a couple years, it was disheartening to find that the very expensive custom programming was more crude than anything I would have cobbled up even for my own personal use.

Meanwhile, the boss and his secretary had enrolled in a massively time-consuming series of classes on how to use Lotus 1-2-3. By February neither of them could yet get past the A> prompt, in spite of the fact that they had class twice a week for several hours. I finally straightened out their directories so they could at least invoke the program, but once inside they were just as stumped as before.

That’s when they hired a high-buck part time consultant to work in-house at getting them up to speed on Lotus. The only trouble was he virtually moved in … spending well over 40 hours a week hanging around the office. That’s when I decided that sly hints and caustic remarks were not getting anybody anywhere. It was time to take off the gloves.

First I started off by leaving photocopies of clippings on the owner’s desk. These ranged all the way from Borland’s statement that (t)he world now knows that to try to make a PC behave half as well as a Mac, you’ll need an 80386, an EGA, and a lot of patience, to industry articles showing the Mac outselling all other machines.

Next I began bringing in illustrations for my articles. True, the art department traced over most of them, but I made sure they knew that I had done them myself at home on my Mac.

Within a couple of weeks I was missing no opportunity that would allow me to boost the Mac or knock IBM. I knew they weren’t going to send back the System 36 for a $200,000 refund, but they had finally become convinced that having half a dozen or more editors trying to write articles using a minicomputer was a vain hope, without even getting into the fact that the System 36 could not be made to talk to the Compugraphics typesetting equipment, so everything would have be be rekeyed. This meant buying computers (instead of terminals) for each editor. I showed them that they could save a ton of money up front by using 512Es instead of IBMs, and that people would still have use of their desks. I showed how the art department could make use of the more powerful Mac Plus, SE, or Mac II, and how easy it was to transfer files by simply walking diskettes from office to office. I then showed them how a Mac could be connected on a network that would allow them to share editorial information (and a laser printer) and at the same time serve as a terminal for the System 36, so accessing the magazine index database (which was to be kept on the System 36) was as easily as sending an article to typesetting.

When the new PS/2s came out, they bought three of them. Two languished unused. The one that was used, according to its user, produced unsatisfactory graphics. Six months after buying the System 36 they still had some of the terminals packed in their original boxes, unopened, and the ad coordinators were still doing their jobs by hand. All talk of getting the accounting department up and running on the System 36 had died out long ago.

Then one day I spotted a Macintosh in the conference room. Three men were obviously setting up for a demonstration. Two of them were from Nynex, the third from Apple.

I knew the timing was right. A week later I brought in my 2 Mb Macintosh Plus and DataFrame XP20. I had pre-loaded Switcher to run my word processor, my spreadsheet, a drawing program, and a page layout program. That afternoon, I got together with everyone from the art department and whizzed through a demonstration, creating all the pieces and then pasting it up. I knew that little of what I did would sink in, so I rushed through the steps in order to leave plenty of time for each of them to noodle around with MacPaint. Judging by the response I got, my demonstration wowed them, but letting them get their hands on the machine to create something with MacPaint blew them away.

A few weeks later I played hookey to attend the first day of the Apple Business Forum, thinking that I would collect a bunch of literature and bring it into work, as a cocky hunter would return to the tribe with his kill. After spending all morning and most of the afternoon there I was on my way out the door when who should appear but the owner, the publisher, and several of the guys from the art department? They were arriving late, but they were there to check out what this Macintosh thing was all about. By keeping up a constant level of background noise about the Macintosh, I had created an environment in which it was suddenly okay to consider buying that little box with the mouse.

By the end of July 1987, the in-house consultant had been fired, although the owner and his secretary never did figure out 1-2-3. One of the System 36 terminals still sat in its box, unopened; the rest are rarely used. The editors still don’t have terminals, and the old PC-XT was fitted with a very expensive card that allowed it to talk with the Compugraphics typesetter, although it worked in a way completely foreign to the rest of the data flow through typesetting.

I recently left to accept a job at another publisher, but in my place I left Mark Heliger, owner of Access Publishing, who was brought in as a consultant on my recommendation. With experience both with Compugraphics and Apple equipment, Mark not only could tell them what would work, he could show them how it happened. A strong dose of reality must have been what they needed; Last night Mark called to say that the decision had been made to buy Macs for the editors.

So the next time you run across an expert who pooh-poohs this attachment we Mac users have with our hardware, feel free to knock his expertise into a cocked hat. Against the massive ignorance and cow-like trust in IBM that pervades corporate America, an evangelist is the very least that is needed. After years of listening to them denigrate the Lisa, the 128K Mac, the Mac XL, the visual interface, the mouse, the screen size, etc., etc., you could get the feeling that the only way the Mac was going to draw fanatics was to become IBM or UNIX compatible. Corporate America doesn’t want easy, came the message. It wants to type in commands that more closely resemble modem line noise than English.

Then DRI came out with GEM. Then Microsoft came out with Windows. Now suddenly IBMers are talking about icons, mice, and pull-down menus as if they invented them. Those who cannot make history are condemned to rewrite it.

The office in which I am working now is considering computerizing. They are looking at a Compugraphics typesetter and AT-clones for the editors. December is the date when all is set to happen, so I have plenty of time to wage my jihad, my holy war.

And this time, I know the war can be won.